Trial (Sort of) Begins Over Police Officer's Conduct in Eric Garner's Death

Five years later, Daniel Pantaleo faces administrative justice.


It's been five years since Americans saw a cellphone video of Eric Garner wheezing "I can't breathe" as a police officer appeared to put him in a choke hold. Garner would later die, and the officer's actions would get part of the blame.

That officer, Daniel Pantaleo, is now finally facing some sort of accountability for his actions. A departmental trial is supposed to determine whether Pantaleo violated the law, or even just violated police procedures, on that day. He could be fired. Or he could lose some vacation days. Or nothing might happen at all.

The police who confronted Garner suspected he was illegally selling "loosies," single cigarettes, to people who want to get around New York City's incredibly high cigarette taxes. Garner refused to cooperate with the cops, and the cops responded with the violent and ultimately fatal takedown.

It has taken years for the New York Police Department to take any sort of action here, in part because they were waiting to see if the Department of Justice was going to get involved. The district attorney for the Staten Island area sent a case to a grand jury in 2014, but the jurors declined to indict.

Of the police slayings that have sparked protests over the last few years, Garner's was particularly egregious, given he was not himself accused of any violent activity. He had a long history of getting in trouble with police, but only for low-level offenses like selling loose cigarettes and possessing marijuana.

This trial is supposed to determine what sorts of consequences Pantaleo will face. But it's unclear whether we'll actually learn the officer's fate. The New York Times explains:

The courtroom is in the Police Department's headquarters in Lower Manhattan. The trial is open to the public, but no court transcripts will be available, and lists of testifying witnesses will not be provided.

Even the judge's decision will be not necessarily be disclosed. It will be sent to the police commissioner, James P. O'Neill, who has the authority to uphold, modify or even vacate the ruling.

There is no mechanism for compelling Mr. O'Neill to announce his conclusion, though it is expected to be revealed by people with knowledge of the decision.

New York state law includes incredibly thorough demands that records of police conduct be kept secret, with the open goal of protecting officers from public embarrassment. The fact that Pantaleo had a history of misconduct before the confrontation with Garner only become public because somebody leaked it to the press.

California has finally changed its laws to improve access to records of police misbehavior. New York State has not followed suit. New York City passed an ordinance in 2016 that simply requires the NYPD to provide some statistical data on the number of officers who have engaged in misconduct in a given year—and the police aren't even complying with that demand. New York desperately needs reforms to force more transparency about police conduct.

NEXT: Illinois Survey That Supposedly Shows Support for Legalizing Marijuana Is 'Dwindling' Actually Shows It Is Rising

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  1. He could be fired. Or he could lose some vacation days. Or nothing might happen at all.

    Let’s place our bets.

    1. When we’ll never know the winner? I’ll hold them.

  2. Let me get this straight…they waited for the statute of limitations to run out before undertaking administrative proceedings?

    1. There’s a statute of limitations for killing someone?

      1. No. Eddy must be drunk.

        1. No SoL for murder, but these cases tend to be tried as civil-rights violations – deprivation of the constitutional right to life.

          1. Eddy’s right. The NYT article did mention that the statute of limitations was about to run out. Remember, cops murdering people while being cops is never murder.

  3. How much for a Loosey?

    1. Another tragic and senseless death at the hands of Big Tobacco.

      1. Capitalism strikes again!

    2. Look, Clinton, George Holy War and George Waffen Bush advocated the death penalty for big drug dealers. Even Scott Adams the cartoonist recently got on that bandwagon. Cigarettes are unquestionably habit-forming drugs, and few would deny Garner was big, right?

  4. Sigh. Even Reason has resorted to the “suspected of selling loosies” revisionist history. The cops had been called to a fight. Garner has been credited, by some witnesses, with helping break up said fight. Cops showed up, recognized Garner from previous encounters when he was selling loosies, and decided to hassle him. He insisted on his right to be left alone unless the cops had reasonable cause. They didn’t. They didn’t witness him selling loosies, and had been called to the location for a completely different reason, for completing different people, and killed him anyway. Fuck them.

    1. Thank you!

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  6. “but only for low-level offenses like selling loose cigarettes and possessing marijuana”

    Multiple arrests for assault and grand larceny. Not defending the police here because they abuse “resisting arrest” to do anything they like, but the narrative on Garner’s character is flat out wrong. He was also 6’3 ~350lb so that needs to be put in context as well so people don’t think that police are choking out random people for the hell of it. They’re escalating use of force when people resist arrest and current procedure is inadequate for situations where officers are weaker than civilians.

    1. Are you even libertarian?

  7. I would salivate at the chance to represent the defense in this case.

    Nearly every account of this episode tells a whopper of a lie. The police did not kill him, he was not choked to death. He died of a heart attack because he was 350 lbs. You don’t choke to death 45 minutes after someone has put a chokehold on you.

    “Later he died” after the “ultimately fatal takedown”. Yes, my father later died after buying a new Lincoln. Can I sue Ford?

    1. He was dead before the cops gt off of him. And it was an asthma attack the killed him that was brought on by the illegal behavior of the officers. So, if the car dealer started beating the crap out of your aged father and he has a heart attack because of the fear and the stress of the beating, then sue whomever you’d like but the dealer will be arrested. Is the police union paying you to post?

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